The planned culture change approach is well understood, with tools and methods used to move an organisation from one state to another. It sees change as a cyclical process involving diagnosis, action and evaluation followed by more action and re-evaluation to establish a new state and prevent regression.

However there comes a point when developing a continuous improvement approach is more relevant to a company’s maturity. This requires a shift in thinking to a more dynamic, sustained approach where change is driven from within – from the bottom up as they say.

This emergent approach to change is a relatively new field that advocates a flatter organisation with less management hierarchies and more delegation and autonomous working. This helps them adapt, be more flexible and react quickly to changes in the marketplace.

The emergent approach depends on an organisation’s ability to develop a learning culture. This prepares people for change so they cope with it better. Individual and organisational learning starts with clear communication from the top that’s effective in getting the right messages across the whole organisation.

Gear cogs held together by human hands
Success also depends on building confidence within employees so they contribute and engage in dealing with issues. This in turn fosters a shared sense of ownership of problems and a greater commitment to get things changed in line with the new vision the top guys have set.

I hope that effective communication from the top as the key to positive culture is nothing new to anyone reading this. But all too often the mechanisms are perfected but real engagement with people isn’t there. To learn and share people need to feel trust in those around them so they’re open about what needs to change.

As this process becomes more open and their ideas are not only valued but come to fruition, there’s a shift in focus from management-led to employee-led initiatives. Yet promoting open debate can be difficult for managers as they may not like what they hear (something for next month’s blog!) .

Companies often tell me they’re good at learning and sharing information from incidents and near-misses. This is led by the safety team with briefs disseminated widely and with good effect but with no real attempt is made to promote real engagement. Even when they’re at the stage of focus teams addressing safety issues all too often I hear “they don’t listen to us when we suggest things”. Or “they’ll already have the answer they want to hear and this is just to make us feel better”.

I once listened in despair to a group explain how they’d piloted various brands of safety gloves then given their recommendation to their line manager only to be told it would still be down to the finance people to decide which ones they got.

So in order to really learn as an organisation you need to be able to listen and feedback constructively at all levels. Where are you on this?